Much of what is known of the earliest history of Christian monasti- cism is derived from the Tales and Sayings of the Desert Fathers(Apophthegmata Patrum) of which three major collections survive. Until now only the ‘Alphabetic’ and the ‘Systematic’ collections have been available in English translation; with the present volume, the‘Anonymous’ collection becomes available, not only in English, but with the first complete edition of the Greek text on facing pages. Although many of the contents of these collections refer to desert communities in north-west Egypt, the collectors may have been refugee monks settled in Palestine who sought to record in Greek an oral tradition of instruction originally in Coptic to secure it for future generations. The ‘Alphabetic’ collection and its appendix, the‘Anonymous’, were both created towards ad 500 (the ‘Systematic’somewhat later) but it is clear that further material was added to the‘Anonymous’ well into the seventh century. Consequently, this volume furnishes almost as much material for the study of the late antique world from which the monk sought to escape as it does for the monastic endeavour itself. But the spread and gradual evolution of monasticism are well illustrated here over a period extending to the Moslem conquest.
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